Five cuts: Mets slip-sliding away

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1. Johan to the rescue?With their season teetering on the brink of collapse, there was no doubt that Johan Santana would be called on to try and save the Mets from elimination on Saturday. What was surprising was that Santana would call on himself, and didn't even wait until the Mets current status had materialized. Instead, he told manager Jerry Manuel on Wednesday that he wanted the ball on three day's rest "regardless." "He came in and begged for tomorrow's game," said Manuel.

But the Santana who will take the mound is a mystery. Yes, he's a perfect 7-0 in the second half, and his 2.26 home ERA offers plenty of hope for Mets fans. But he is coming off a career-high 125-pitch outing, and has made just one previous start on three day's rest, going five innings against the Yankees in the 2004 AL Division Series.

2. It may come down to -- gasp -- the bullpenAs if there isn't enough risk in starting Santana on short rest, the Mets are confronted with this terrifying thought: there is no relief in sight if he falters. Manuel sounded hopeful when he said, "At this point of the year, I don't know if [pitch count] matters that much." But the truth is that the Mets will need Santana to be even better than his typically efficient self (he ranks 13th among NL pitchers with 15.4 pitches per inning). On Friday night, the Mets used an astounding, even by their standards, seven pitchers to get the final nine outs of the game, and six to get through the seventh and eighth. Predictably enough, the 'pen was far from mighty, allowing three runs in those innings to put the game out of reach. With their season on the line, they can't afford to have to rely on their relief corps for more than a couple innings, meaning they'll have to hope Santana can maximize his pitches.3. The most pressure tomorrow won't be on SantanaInstead, the real burden is on the Mets offense, which scored just one run on seven hits Friday night. After Alfredo Amezaga ran down Ryan Church's drive to the warning track with the bases loaded in the first inning, the Mets only got one runner past second base the rest of the way, in the sixth inning, when Churich scored the Mets' only run. Not only did they not threaten much of the night, but they failed to cash in on their few opportunities, going just 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. And they will face the Marlins' best starter, Ricky Nolasco (15-7, 3.55 ERA) on Saturday.

4. Must stop HanleyMarlins All-Star Hanley Ramirez went 4-for-5 with two stolen bases and three runs scored, and he provided the spark for the Marlins that his more celebrated counterpart on the Mets, Jose Reyes, did not do for his team. Leading off the game, Ramirez singled, stole second and scored on a single by No. 2 hitter John Baker, giving the Marlins a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Reyes, meanwhile, went 0-for-5, including three hitless trips when leading off an inning. With his speed, Ramirez is a one-man rally that can ignite at any moment. In other words, he is Reyes, but only one of those players came through on Friday.

5. Life supportIt was hard to tell whether the Mets or their fans were the more lifeless bunch on Friday. The fans may draw their strength from the team's play, and while the Mets' performance offered little reason for excitement, the atmosphere on Friday was far short of pennant race excitement, and was instead reminiscent of watching two teams play out the string. Which by the late innings of Saturday's game, could very well be true.